Bjorn felt strangely exited as he stepped out into the grey outdoors together with Geir, with a bag containing three wine bottles in one hand and a bag full of carrots and cheeses in the other. Everything about the village felt both strange and familiar at the same time. Its exotic foreignness contrasting sharply with the drab predictability of its arctic setting.
A light drizzle had started once again, and Bjorn felt a sting of pity for the merchants out on the market place, struggling to keep their wares dry by covering their flimsy make shift stalls as best they could. An enterprising merchant had hammered together a roof of sorts, covered with canvas, which he slid into place with the help of three teenage kids. The others simply covered their wares with large sheets of transparent plastic.
Everything about the village seemed ad hock and badly planned. But there was no sign of despair anywhere. People seemed to accept their lot, some even with visible enthusiasm.
"You need help carrying that?" a tall black teenager asked, appearing out of nowhere.
"No," Bjorn answered instinctively, feeling uncomfortable by the sudden and uncalled for attention.
"One MG, and I'll carry it all the way home for you," the teenager insisted.
"One MG?" Bjorn asked, surprised by the miniscule amount asked for. Then, still feeling uncomfortable, he excused himself by saying he didn't carry such small change.
"That's all right," the youth continued. "I got change for as much as twenty MG." And he held up a handful of tiny casino tokens to prove his point.
The teenager smiled broadly as he nagged Bjorn once more, insisting on helping him carry the bags.
"You heard him, didn't you?" Geir said with an aggressive tone of voice, clearly in an effort to help Bjorn rid himself of the teenager.
"But you're not helping him, are you?" the teenager insisted, pointing out that Bjorn was carrying two bags, while Geir was not carrying any.
"He's my assistant," Geir proclaimed proudly. "Now, go away, will you."
"Is that so?" the teenager asked, looking at Bjorn with a mocking smile.
"Yeah," Bjorn admitted reluctantly. "But you know what?" he continued. "Why don't you carry these bags for me over to our car up there at the parking lot."
The teenager broke out in a big smile, took the bags, and started strolling in the direction of the parking lot, alongside the two men. Geir hissed a Norwegian curse. "Don't feed the stray dogs," he said, lecturing Bjorn on his mistake. "You'll never get rid of him now."
But Bjorn ignored Geir's whisper, turning to the boy instead.
"So where are you from?" Bjorn asked. "Your English is very good."
"Thanks! I'm from Senegal."
"Really? And you speak English in Senegal?"
"No. We speak French. I learned English at school."
"Comes in handy up here, doesn't it? Not very many people speak French here, do they."
"Quite a few do, actually. But English is the language that everybody understands."
"It is, isn't it?" Bjorn agreed. "And you are here with family?"
"I'm here with my father. My mother and sisters are back home in Senegal."
Bjorn had no idea where Senegal was, and completely clueless to its language, history or culture, he wondered out loud why someone would want to leave sunny Africa for the arctic.
"We were sent up here from Oslo, just the other day," the boy explained. "My father was working for a cleaning agency. But they got busted."
"Really? So you are not looking for asylum."
"Officially we are. But we are really just looking for work."
"Officially?" Bjorn asked, curious to learn about the boy's and his father's thinking.
"Well, with the new rules and all, we knew that we would be sent up here for free if we asked for asylum. So when my father got busted, he asked for asylum, and we got sent up here."
"But that´s hardly an improvement on what you had, is it?"
"We would have preferred to stay in Oslo. But since that isn't an option any longer, my father figured we'd try our luck up here."
"And how is that working out so far?"
"Not very well," the boy had to admit. "But at least my father still has a job."
"He does? Where?"
"At the fish processing plant."
"Not making very much money, is he?" Bjorn asked, looking for a confirmation for his quiet outrage over Ane's terrible wage policy.
"No, it is much less than what he used to get in Oslo. But it is still better than no job at all. And my father and I still have enough to send some money home to the family."
"Really? How is that possible?" Bjorn asked, genuinely surprised.
"We don't spend much money on ourselves."
"Clearly..." Bjorn nodded in confirmation.
"But things will get better," the boy concluded optimistically as they reached the car at the parking lot. "A lot better."